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First known statistical graphic

Over the years in research on data graphics, I collected boxes and boxes filled with
old catalogs for book auctions in Europe, UK, US. Usually I bought these boxes from
book dealers who were retiring or selling their reference library.

The auction houses, in documenting even very obscure books for sale, would pick what
they saw as notable illustrations and publish them in the auction catalogs used by buyers.
All sorts of intriguing things would show up in catalogs, especially in auctions of books
dealing with cartography, exploration, birds, flowers, astronomy, math, physics, navigation.

The best find was a statistical graphic by Michael Florent van Langren published
in 1644. I regard it as the first real statistical graphic, since it showed a distribution
of measurements in relation to a putative true value. Here's what I wrote in
Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (1997), p. 15:




The claim about the first known statistical graphic has held up now for 18 years.
In 2010, Michael Friendly, Pedro Valero-Mora, and Joaquín Ibáñez Ulargui
published a detailed account of the graphic (and 2 earlier versions by van Langren)
in The American Statistician. Here are the 2 manuscript versions:

first manuscript version

second manuscript version

-- Edward Tufte